The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

June 26, 2009

California, Bonnie, the Giants and Wine

One of the great things about having kids who are active, independent and just as jazzed about life as you are is watching them fly and then visiting them in the places they’re nesting for a while.  Bonnie has been our child who tends to hit the road a lot.  Her dance adventures have taken us to New York City, Boston, Prague, Ascoli Piceno, Italy, the Berkshires, and DC, among other exciting places — and last weekend they took us to visit her in San Francisco where she is immersing herself in Alonzo King’s LINES ballet program this summer. 

We took this opportunity to combine a visit with Bonnie with a celebration of Father’s Day and a little more research into California’s exquisite wine country.  Annie came along with us which made this the first time the original Boiter-Jolley clan had spent anytime together away from Muddy Ford in quite some time.  We missed Kyle, but it felt nice to re-visit our little nuclear unit for a few days.

The three of us flew into San Francisco airport on Friday morning about noon, then spent over two hours waiting on the local Fox Rental Car company to issue us our pre-ordered convertible PT Cruiser.  That gave us just enough time to sit in traffic on the way to Napa, enjoy a brief but glorious sparkling tasting at Domaine Carneros (a division of Taittanger of Reims — ), then sit in traffic again as we drove back into the city to meet Bonnie.  As a Father’s Day surprise Bonnie had purchased tickets to see the Giants play Friday night, so we easily made out way to the stadium and hunkered down for a cold but fun night. 

We devoted all day Saturday and all day Monday to visiting wineries we had missed on our last trip in March.  Farrari-Carano easily offered us the best wines of our visit — luscious chardonnays, lightly oaked, with long, complex finishes and pleasant spice.  If you hit the Farrari-Carano winery, be sure to take the stairs down into the cellar for their reserve tasting where you’ll find a knowledgeable staff and absolutely scrumptious tastings.  And please do try the 2007 Dominique Chard, the 2007 Emelia’s Cuvee Chard (which is unfiltered) and, for a big, fat, tannin – rich meritage, try the 2005 Prevail Westface — a hard-to-come-by lush red that I plan to keep in my cellar for at least another 5 years.  It was actually our server at FC who directed us to a small winery we’d never heard of before — Bella. 

Like Ferrari-Carano, Bella Winery is located in the Dry Creek Valley; it is a small, family-owned and, obviously, well-loved winery and facility.  Bounteous lavender plants line the modest drive and lawn where rolls of yoga mats invite visitors to take a load off and enjoy the scenery and wine.  Dry Creek Valley is known for producing big fat zinfandels and the Bella Winery has a wonderful example of the best the area has to offer — the 2007 Two Patch Zinfandel, awarded a nice 95 by Wine Enthusiast.  Visit their site at

In the interest of brevity, here’s the Siskel and Ebert version of the remainder of our tastings with a few brief notes where needed.

Mayo Family — thumbs down, at least for the diner-like tasting room we visited — no problem here, just no atmosphere either and wines which didn’t really float our boats —

Gloria Ferrer — Sparkling is always a great way to start your winery visits wherever you are, and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the beautiful terrace here overlooking vineyards and sharing 4 flutes of the winery’s offerings (but still highly prefer Schramsberg and Domaine Carneros) — thumbs up —

Ledson — thumbs way down — big informal corporate tasting of mediocre wines — not even gonna list the website

Benziger Family Winery —  thumbs way up — don’t miss this historical site or its embrace of biodynamic viticulture — wines range widely —

Gundlach-Bundschu — thumbs up — another old (1858) winery with a lot of history, a healthy dose of irreverence and some quite decent wines —

Schug Carneros Estate — thumbs up — but if you’re from South Carolina you should know that our home state is the major market for this winery — so don’t bother with the first tier tasting of wines you can find on almost any grocery store shelf in the state — go for the reserve tasting where you’ll find some happy values and very nice wines that are easy to ship home —

Landmark — thumbs up — knowledgeable staff, good, afforable wines, lovely setting with a place to picnic which we used to its fullest —

Wilson Winery — thumbs up — under the direction of winemaker and general manager Diane Wilson, who is also the mother of three teenagers, Wilson has a tasty array of fruit-forward reds.  Stop in to see the small assembly —

Blog at